When Sonia Gandhi was persuaded to take charge of the Congress once again earlier this year, it was expected that her return would bring about a semblance of order in the party, which had been thrown into turmoil after its debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, and Rahul Gandhi’s decision to relinquish the presidency.
To be fair, there were no grand expectations from Sonia Gandhi’s second stint, as there was all-round agreement that it would not be possible for her to transform the crisis-ridden Congress overnight into a dynamic and robust organisation.
However, it was believed that the respect Sonia Gandhi commands from the party cadre would, at least, help end the ongoing internal bickering which has been the bane of the Congress. But two months after she took over, the Congress continues to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, as the angry, frustrated voices within refuse to be silenced, while desertions from the party ranks have become a routine affair.
The latest to speak up is former external affairs minister Salman Khursheed, who publicly bemoaned that Rahul Gandhi had walked away from the party even before it could introspect the reasons for its crushing electoral defeat. His former cabinet colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia endorsed the view that the Congress needs to analyse why it fared so poorly in the last general election.
Earlier, Ashok Tanwar, who was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi to head the party’s Haryana unit, quit the Congress as he was upset when he was replaced by senior leader Selja. Another Rahul Gandhi appointee, Sanjay Nirupam, former head of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee, is on the warpath because the candidates suggested by him for the October 21 Maharashtra assembly polls, were not accommodated.
Former Lok Sabha MP Milind Deora, known for his proximity to Rahul Gandhi, has been cosying up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Others like Uttar Pradesh MLA Aditi Singh, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Pradyot Debbarman from Tripura, who have also rebelled, have all been associated with the former Congress president. They are complaining that there is nobody to speak up for them as the party’s old guard is marginalising those close to Rahul Gandhi.
This ongoing churn in the Congress is being widely seen as a continuation of the never-ending turf war between the party’s old guard or Sonia Gandhi loyalists, and the younger leaders who are better known as members of Team Rahul. This tussle between the two goes back to the years even before Rahul Gandhi took over as Congress president. Afraid that they would be sidelined once Rahul assumed charge of the party, Sonia Gandhi’s supporters blocked the Nehru-Gandhi scion at every stage.
On his part, Rahul did not endear himself to the senior leaders as he suspected them of failing the party and using it for their personal ends. In his attempts to build his own team, Rahul relied heavily on younger leaders and lateral entrants to the party like Sanjay Nirupam, Madhusudan Mistry and Raj Babbar, while his advisers comprised non-political players. Rahul Gandhi did make amends when he accommodated senior leaders in the party organization after taking over as party chief. But he was prevented from consolidating his position when the Congress suffered a humiliating electoral defeat.
However, the current crisis in the Congress is much more than a battle between two generations. There is no doubt that younger leaders owing allegiance to Rahul Gandhi first felt let-down when he decided to step down as party chief, and are now upset that he has turned his back on them. If GenNext leaders are justifiably unhappy over the turn of events, many older leaders are equally frustrated.
Salman Khursheed’s latest statement is a case in point.
The former minister has chosen to publicly express his anguish over the state of affairs in the party, but he is also speaking for many others who have chosen to remain silent though they are equally perturbed because they find themselves staring at a bleak political future.
This is symptomatic of the deeper malaise afflicting the Congress, which goes beyond making routine changes in the appointment of party personnel.
“We need to identify an issue and launch a movement like the BJP did after Balakot,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
However, there is one view that both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are deliberately turning a blind eye to this drift in the Congress, to eventually discredit the section of the old guard which currently controls the party.
This, it is said, will make it easier for Rahul Gandhi to return as Congress president. But it would be foolish to underestimate the seniors, who are masters of backroom politicking and have been constantly outsmarting their younger leaders who lack both mass connect and political skills.
In the meantime, Congress remains trapped between Sonia Gandhi’s ineffectiveness and Rahul Gandhi’s indifference.